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In a move called a ‘mockery of consumers’ right to know’ by leading public health, food and consumer advocates, President Obama signed into law the industry-backed GMO labeling bill, S. 764. The new law replaces ‘plain English labels’ with obscure codes and telephone numbers, and repeals GMO labeling laws already in place across the country – most notably in VT.
“Consumers deserve transparency around something as fundamental as the food they eat and feed their families,” said Deirdre Cummings of MASSPIRG. “The new law is nothing but a gift to the big Ag and Food industries who want to keep consumers in the dark. Having lost this battle in the states, the industry pushed the sham bill through Congress to repeal GMO labeling laws already passed and in effect. While we greatly appreciate the leadership of US Senators Warren and Markey and Congresspersons McGovern, Neal, Capuano and Clark voting the right way, too many of the Massachusetts delegation, including Congresspersons Lynch, Keating, Kennedy, Moulton and Tsongas chose to side with the special interests over the public interest.”
“I was dismayed by the passage of this federal bill, said State Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst), one of the chief sponsors of the Massachusetts GMO labeling bill. “It sabotages the efforts that states were attempting on their own. We all know there should be a federal policy, but we would have been better off with nothing than this subversion of consumer rights. I am grateful to the six members of our Congressional delegation that voted against this bill.”
"I am disappointed to see that President Obama has signed this bill into law," added State Representative Todd M. Smola (R-Palmer), another chief sponsor of the Massachusetts GMO labeling bill. "States have been working tirelessly to pass strong GMO labeling legislation that keeps people well informed. This new federal standard lacks the transparency that we desperately need in order to give consumers the appropriate information to make sound decisions. This law falls very short of a true labeling standard. This is not a step in the right direction for consumers."
“Public skepticism about GMOs and about our so-called democratic process will only be heightened by this move,” said Martin Dagoberto of Massachusetts Right to Know GMO. “It’s outrageous that Congress has just nullified GMO labeling laws already passed across the country and silenced the ability of our own legislature to pass the broadly supported GMO labeling bill.”
Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem), a chief senate cosponsor of the Massachusetts bill, said, “Hard work was being done at the state level to ensure consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they eat and what they are feeding their families. While I know the recent federal action was an attempt to take a step in the right direction, I wish it had gone further. I’m hopeful that we can continue our work, now at the federal level, to advocate for improvements that will include simple, uniform GMO labeling. While I am disappointed that this law preempts our local efforts, I stay committed to achieving easy to read, clear, consistent labeling to ensure the public is properly informed.”
The major failings of the new law:
No Labels: Instead of a simple, uniform, easy to read, on-the-package GMO label, like the one in effect in Vermont today, the law would allow companies to use symbols, 1-800 numbers, or QR codes that need to be scanned with smart phones.
Consumer labeling is only useful when it is simple, uniform and easy to compare, anything else doesn’t work and only serves to undermine consumer choice. In fact, poll after poll has shown that ninety percent of Americans are in favor of clear, consistent labeling.
Repeals and prevents adoption of real consumer labeling laws: Even worse, the bill would abolish the GMO labeling law currently in effect in VT, and those passed in ME, CT and AK, and prohibit other states from passing labeling laws, like the one pending in Massachusetts that is cosponsored by 154 of 200 members of the legislature.
Massive Loopholes: The legislation creates a novel definition of “bioengineered food” instead of using well-accepted terminology. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as many legal and policy experts, are critical of the law, arguing that the narrow definition of “bioengineering” would “likely mean that many foods from GE sources will not be subject to this bill”. Others fear that this definition could weaken the organic label by enabling some genetically engineered foods to be considered as organic.
Not enforced: The law is essentially voluntary. There are no enforcement provisions and there are no fines or penalties for non-compliance.
Background: Legislation providing citizens with the basic right to know whether the food they are feeding their families contains genetically engineered (GE or GMO) ingredients has been introduced in more than 30 states, with Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska already having enacted such laws. Maine and Virginia also have laws that require labeling of GE or GMO seeds. S.764 will preempt all GMO food and seed labeling laws and prohibit states from enacting GMO labeling Bills.
The Massachusetts legislature was considering H. 3242 - An Act establishing the genetic engineering transparency food labeling act, cosponsored by a broad, bipartisan coalition of 154 (out of 200) lawmakers; more than 450 organizations, businesses, and farms; and 40,000 residents who signed petitions calling for labeling. Eight newspapers across the state had called for the bill’s passage.
Legislation proposing plain English GMO labeling was met with fierce opposition from the biotechnology, Big Ag, and grocery manufacturing lobbies, who spent millions to defeat legislation in the states. As the July 1, 2016 implementation date of Vermont’s GMO law loomed, those powerful special interests turned to Congress to undermine consumers’ right to know.
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